I think Jesus had had a rough few days and was not feeling the best. By the time we reach the eleventh chapter of Matthew’s gospel they had taught extensively about the kingdom, healed many and called disciples. But Jesus is feeling that they just can’t win – if they try to be an ascetic like John they’ll say, ‘he has a demon’; and, as it is they are accusing Jesus of being a ‘glutton and a drunkard’. So, Jesus is not feeling over happy, and from that place of discouragement he reproaches the cities that will not welcome them. It is perhaps a comfort to realise that even Jesus can have a bad day. For Jesus, the embodiment of God, experienced the full range of our human emotions and was not afraid of them...
An anonymous poet wrote, ‘I am part of all I have met." Just think about that for a moment. I think they are saying that every person, every situation we encounter changes us – sometimes only slightly, sometimes profoundly. And the more open we are to the things and people we meet, the more likely we are to be changed by them and to carry them with us in our spirit, in our heart and in our physical being – for indeed our encounters write themselves on our very bodies...
Today is Trinity Sunday, when the church tries to describe the indescribable; to point to the character and action of the Divine that is always dynamic and evolving. The early teachers of the church came to describe God as Trinity – three equal ‘persons’ or expressions of God, Father, Son and Spirit – or in the beautiful and more inclusive language of Julian of Norwich, the Maker, the Lover and the Keeper. It is a picture of God as a community of equality. That in itself is of immense importance in a world where inequality and autocracy tend to rise up as we have seen this week in the United States. The picture of God as Trinity shows us how God’s very being and nature is about relationship and love. How might this picture of God as Trinity help us in these days of change and challenge across our world?...
“He breathed on them and said, ’Receive the Holy Spirit’”
- Oh my: it’s to be hoped they were all at 1.5metres distance and wearing masks!...
On this Mother’s Day we have a gospel text that has Jesus talk a great deal about the Father! That is only problematic, if we then falsely equate God and fatherhood. God is of course beyond gender and inclusive of all genders. So theologically the writer of John could just as well have written ‘I am in the Mother and the Mother is in me.’ Had they done so, the shape of church life down the centuries might have been a little different! But what they were most concerned about was not the gender of God, but the nature of our relationship with God. On the eve of crucifixion, Jesus is depicted reassuring the disciples that what matters is that we all have our home, our dwelling place in the heart of God and we can trust this no matter what. Our relationship with God is as intimate as that between parent and child; our home in God modeled on earthly hearth and home.
When in the 1870s Julia Ward Howe established a Mothers’ Day for Peace, she did so from the passionate belief that relationship is what matters and can make a difference. All mothers raise children for life, and not as cannon fodder for war and destruction. Mothers raise children to maintain relationship and to care for one another. They do so because they understand well that God cares for each human child just like a good mother, with tenderness and equal love, while cherishing their diversity.
Mothers indeed provide to their children exactly the gifts that Jesus promises the disciples – life, truth and a pathway to follow. Every human child relies on a mother for the gift of life, nurtured by them in the womb. Those who mother us in later life, whether our birth mothers, or others who tend to us with motherly care, then offer us the gift of truth – the truth of who we are and have the potential to become. No one knows us better than the mother figures in our lives – some of whom of course may be fathers! It is also the role of mothers to offer us pathways, ways to navigate the challenges of life, drawing on their own experience and the pathways shown to them by their own forebears. Many of us will have been helped along the pathway of discipleship by the mothering love we received in Christian community.
So today as we give thanks for those who have mothered us, we give thanks too for our relationship with God – a relationship of intimacy and care, in which we receive the gifts of life, truth and ways to walk – the gifts of our true Mother. Amen.
by Penny Jones, for Sunday 3 May 2020
When you see an egg, do you see the risen Jesus? This is what Christians have done from the earliest times. There is an Armenian picture from the eleventh century that shows the angel and the women at the tomb with a huge egg inscribed with the words ‘He is not here. He is risen.’
So why an egg. Well firstly eggs are elliptical in shape – they are infinite, having no beginning or end, and so are symbolic for God. There is no end to God’s creativity, God’s love, God’s compassion.
Secondly an egg symbolizes the potential of new life. In some sense it is a microcosm, a miniature version of everything that is. It reminds us of the potential that each of us has for new life and a new beginning, today on Easter Day and every day.
Thirdly, for a chick to emerge from an egg, the shell must be broken. This symbolizes for Christians the rolling away of the stone from the front of the tomb, so that the risen Christ could emerge. It reminds us that for the new to come, the old has to be fractured and let go – an important message in these days, where so much of what is familiar to us has to be left behind.
Eggs tell us that God cannot be contained; that resurrection is possible and life is stronger than death. In recent memory Christians living under the severely repressive Albanian government, used to dye eggs red for the blood of Christ in the Orthodox fashion, and then take them out in the dark of Holy Saturday night and place them on the steps of town halls and places of government. By doing so they asserted the power of love over hate.
So, what do you see when you see an egg? Take a little time today to contemplate an egg and ask God to help you see there the reality of new life even in the midst of death. And look twice – for it can be a messenger of hope and resurrection to you today.
Penny Jones, for Easter Sunday 12 April 2020
Today on Good Friday we affirm the infinite Love of God displayed in the crucifixion of Jesus - not as a metaphysical transaction to change God from punishing us (as if), but as a witness to the love of God for us at all times, even when we have gone astray or are caught in webs of evil. Sadly too many Christians speak of a punishing God, with disastrous spiritual and practical consequences. That is partly understandable from some past inherited thinking in Christian traditions. It is however a partial way of looking at the cross which is not only destructive but wholly unnecessary theologically.
The Franciscan tradition - not least through the great theologian John Duns Scotus (c. 1266-1308) - is in contrast one which has always encouraged us to focus on the infinite Love of God, displayed in the cross as in all other aspects of creation and salvation. As Richard Rohr among others has recently reminded us, if God “needed” a blood sacrifice to love God’s own creation, then God was not freely loving us. For the Franciscans, 'Jesus was not changing God’s mind about us; he was changing our minds about God. If God and Jesus are not violent or vindictive, then our excuse for the same is forever taken away from us. If God is punitive and torturing however, then we have permission to do the same. Thus grew much of the church’s violent history.'
W.H.Vanstone put this beautifully in his great poem and reflection on 'Love's Endeavour, Love's Expense:
Drained is love in making full,
bound in setting others free,
poor in making many rich,
weak in giving power to be.
Therefore he who shows us God
helpless hangs upon the tree;
and the nails and crown of thorns
tell of what God’s love must be.
Here is God: no monarch he,
throned in easy state to reign;
here is God, whose arms of love
aching, spent, the world sustain.
May we know God's Love more deeply this day, and may it transform our lives for the good.
by Jo Inkpin, for Good Friday 10 April 2020
see further: Richard Rohr's reflection - A Nonviolent Atonement
It is Palm Sunday – the crowds are cheering and waving their palms in the air, and Jesus is riding along on the back of a donkey. Now a donkey is not a horse. It is not an animal that signifies power and authority – and though possibly the donkey in Shrek has done something to rehabilitate the donkey as a figure of wisdom, they are still often ridiculed. Victorious Roman generals rode into Jerusalem, through the other gate, on the backs of tall stallions telling the world of the power of Rome and its generals. Jesus by contrast chooses the humble donkey, beast of burden and the Biblical equivalent of a modern day ute.
The donkey was not glamorous, but my goodness it was useful. Have you ever wondered what the disciples would have done if the owner of the donkey had said ‘no’ to the request to share it? Their ‘yes’ was almost as important as the ‘yes’ of that other faithful disciple, Mary, without whom Jesus would not have been born. And why did they agree? - because they were told ‘the Lord needs it’.
‘the Lord needs it.’ That is a beautiful phrase and one that we should sit with this Holy Week. For we do not often consider that God needs us. We know very well of course that we need God. But God needs us too and cannot accomplish what needs to be done without our co-operation and that’s especially true in such a time of crisis as we now face.
I believe that every single one of us has our donkey – that thing, that possession, that talent, that set of connections, that nest egg of money, that calling that God needs. It is the thing that God has given uniquely to us and that God asks of us. It is our ‘donkey’. At some point – maybe at many points – God is going to say to us ‘I need that now.’ And we need to be ready to say to God, ‘Yes of course, here it is, do with it whatever you need.’
So, between now and Easter, let’s talk to God about our donkeys. Let’s ask God, “what’s my donkey? What’s the thing that I have, that you need? Show me how and when to offer it” And if we all do that God will be able to do all kinds of amazing things among us.
Penny Jones, for Palm Sunday, 5 April 2020
(photo by Daniel Fazio for Unsplash)
Our Gospel reading today (John 11.1-45) is the extraordinary story of the raising of Lazarus – a story of resurrection not just for the future, but into every day, earthly material life. I want us to concentrate on the three commands that Jesus gives in this story. Over the coming week you might like to ponder each in turn for a couple of days, and see how God speaks to you and the circumstances of your life through each one.
The three commands are these:
Take away the stone
Unbind him and let him go...
Today a significant event in my work and social calendar was cancelled due to concerns over COVID19. It is I am sure an experience shared by many of you. Mingled with disappointment, regret and some anxiety about the consequences of this decision down the track, came a different emotion – relief. Not just relief that a decision had been reached and that the safety of myself and others was being helped; but relief also that suddenly in what is normally a packed diary a space, a ‘sabbath rest’ had appeared.
It is very easy in this circumstance for other things simply to rush in to fill the space – a sense of obligation to contact those affected by virtual means; a sudden urge to cleanse the entire house with disinfectant; an earnest searching after other means of communication, like writing this article?!
Yet the quiet voice in my soul says something different - that this extraordinary time is about being not doing; about rediscovering who we are and what is truly important. Our world and church have become extraordinarily activist. We fill our agendas with often frenzied activity. The balance of action and contemplation has tipped decidedly in favour of action. So perhaps this period of enforced inactivity may go some way to redressing that balance.
Sometimes a space where there was supposed to be activity can feel intimidating. It is not easy to move from helter skelter business to stillness and silence in one step. So, if you are wanting to use this time with grace, but uncertain how to begin, I am suggesting adopting the technique created by Sybil MacBeth called ‘Praying In Colour'. If you Google you will find the essential steps readily enough. Essentially it uses doodling and colouring as a way to get still and listen to God. While the hand is occupied, the mind can come to stillness. And if we all hold our world, and those affected by COVID19 tenderly before God in this time, we will surely come through this crisis with a deeper faith and a greater intimacy with God and with one another.
In this time of distress, may you still find blessing; in this time of anxiety, seek gratitude; and in this time of enforced sabbath, sing (and draw) praise to God.
reflection by Penny Jones, 17 March 2020
sermons and reflections from Penny Jones & Jo Inkpin,